Elder H. C. Ker – Dear Brother: – When you have opportunity I would like to have your views on the general epistle of James i. 20.
Your brother in Christ, I hope,
F. W. WATERBURY.
Westwood, N. J., April 13, 1908.
For several reasons we have delayed replying to the request of brother Waterbury. The Scripture suggested by him, and its connection, will call for some expressions which may strike so close to the line as to cause some of us to feel the shock. The text reads as follows: “If any man among you seem to be religions, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceived his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” It is difficult for the children of God who confess their faults to him and to one another, to read expositions of such Scriptures without feeling and perhaps saying, That is for me, when no thought of accusation was in the mind of the writer. This is one reason why we have felt delicate about replying, but the chief reason is self-condemnation.
James from first to last in his epistle sets forth things of great importance, and no letter of the New Testament is more comprehensive or instructive with regard to pure and undefiled and vain religion. The brethren addressed must have had notions contrary to the law of liberty; they perhaps thought that all things were lawful unto them, as Paul said concerning himself. All things are lawful in the sense that nothing can again bring the redeemed of the Lord into condemnation, but all things are not expedient, nor is their liberty to be used for a cloak in evil or wrong doing. Paul was so completely delivered from the Jews’ religion that he could eat meat forbidden by the law, yet he would eat no meat while he lived if it would cause his brother to offend; and while he was so firmly established in the gospel that all days were alike to him, he would not condemn the weak brother who did esteem one day above another. Well might he say, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” This is the lesson James also taught his brethren, and the same lesson is most important now for us all.
There seems to have been an idea in the minds of those brethren that when they were tempted to evil the Lord did it, and therefore what they did and said was lawful or right. James would not allow them to so accuse the Lord, and said to them, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any mat). But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He most positively told them that their temptations were not of God, and that they erred in so thinking. Every man is tempted when drawn away of his own lust and enticed; nothing wrong can be charged against God; every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from him. Predestination never justifies a man in wrong doing, neither does it make God the author of sin.
Three kinds of religion are spoken of in the Bible: pure and undefiled, the Jews’ and vain. Pure and undefiled is the religion of Christ; it causes a man to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction, not only with good words, but with food, fuel and clothing. It is sufficient to live with and to die with. The Jews’ religion consisted in rites, forms and ceremonies, and has no place in the gospel. Vain religion is that which does not glorify God nor benefit the man who has it, in the eyes of his brethren and neighbors, and is made manifest by the tongue, that “unruly member.” Jesus said, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” These, like all other words of the Lord, are true and sure. Men therefore should be swift to hear, but slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not (manifests not) the righteousness of God. “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles,” and escapes the judgment surely to be visited upon the man who does not bridle his tongue. We put bits in horses’ mouths, and their whole body is turned thereby; we govern the course of the ship with a very small helm; all beasts, birds and serpents have been tamed, but the tongue can no man tame, it is full of deadly poison; “it sitteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” With the same tongue we bless God and curse men. Well did the apostle say, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” Yet they were and are now, and doubtless will continue as long as man lives upon the earth. How weak and frail man is! O that we could all “apply our hearts unto wisdom.” How much we all need the power and grace of God to keep us, but by our constant failures we are made to feel that we have neither, and that our religion is vain, our hope vain, and that we are still in our sins.
James speaks of a “tongue among our members;” did he mean in the church, or among the members of each individual body! Perhaps some have observed the work of the tongue in the church, ever stirring up strife and bitterness. One such tongue can do more mischief than a thousand tongues can do good which speak of love and mercy. A man may feel hurt at some intentional or unintentional thing of a brother, and speak in justification of himself, yet ninety-nine times out of a hundred he deceives his own heart, and condemns himself in his speech. If he uses harsh or unkind language he is condemned; if he speaks of the injury to another before speaking to and having an understanding with his brother, he condemns himself; if he refuses in his heart to forgive his brother, who may not ask it of him, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us, he condemns himself; if he continues to talk of his brother’s offence and to justify himself when the brother accused is not present, he deceives his own heart, condemns himself and his religion is vain. How natural it is for every man to see the mote in his brother’s eye, but never to observe the beam in his own, neither can he be convinced that even the smallest atom is in his eye. How prone all men are to speak of the faults of others, but seldom, if ever, speak of their own. Perhaps none of us can imagine the intense anxiety of the apostle when he said to his brethren, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” How few of us seem to be clothed with the beautiful garment, charity. It “suffereth long, and is kind; charity enveith Dot; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” Why is it that we cannot all be and feel as we did when first we knew the Lord? Then the brethren had no faults, hence there was no criticism in our tongues, but our hearts were filled with love to them, and like newborn babes we needed their care, love and forbearance. Charity surely was put on, we did not think evil, we did not speak hard things, we did not curse men, we were not puffed up. But children grow to be men very soon, and then charity is not in evidence; faults are many, love waxes cold, we think of man as man, and not as a brother in the Lord; we become great men, in our own estimation, and unrighteous judges; we want prominence, and envy those who have it. When we sum it all up we have become snch as other men are who have not known the grace of God, or in other words, we have received the grace of God in vain. (2 Cor. vi. 1.)
If we have no understanding of any other portion of God’s word, we feel that this text suggested by brother Waterbury is fully understood, experimentally, by ns, but while the Lord shows us our weakness and sinfulness, may he also show ns his power to save. K.
Editorial – Elder H. C. Ker
Signs Of The Times
Volume 76., No. 16.
AUGUST 15, 1908.